Broken back Republicans

Byline: | Category: 2012, Culture | Posted at: Thursday, 8 November 2012

Two months ago today I posted this analogy between the 2012 presidential race and the one concluded just eight years before.  It seems worthy of review again today.

” . . . pinning your party’s hopes on the most vocal advocates of a highly controversial social issue, when there is near universal agreement that other issues are more important, gives your party’s megaphone to those who are both extreme and irrelevant. Sandra Fluke is this year’s Terri Schiavo. For every already-Democrat she inspires to vote, she turns off at least one independent for the crime of insulting them by ignoring larger issues. Karl Rove’s plan to drive up Evangelical turnout in 2004, while it worked then, gave rise four years later to Mike Huckabee, who is perhaps the most demagogic and dangerous major presidential candidate to have run for office since William Jennings Bryan beclowned himself and his party in the late 19th century. It should have taken years for the GOP to disassociate its reputation from Huckabee’s form of Evangelical theocracy. Except now it appears that Democrats look ready to rush into their own version of anti-First-Amendment totalitarianism that, instead of forcing adherence to religious views, forces opposition to them. Most Americans hate both extremes of this tangential debate.”

Sean Trende wrote along similar lines today:

“Democrats, like Republicans today, were despondent. Aside from having a president they loathed in the White House for four more years, they were terrified by what seemed to be an emerging Republican majority. John Kerry had, after all, hit all of his turnout targets, only to be swamped by the Republican re-election effort. “Values voters” was the catchphrase . . . “

But 2004 was a Republican heyday, not matched by GOP turnout since.  If Mitt Romney had only secured John McCain’s numbers, he would have come exceedingly close in the popular vote and would have picked up at least Ohio.  If he had reached Bush’s levels, he would have won.

However, that is not to say that, had white turnout not fallen so precipitously this year, that Romney would have been victorious.  (Sean Trende did not conclude that, although one might get that impression from what he wrote.)  In fact, my own analysis of the effect of marginally likely voters tells me that had turnout increased, Mitt Romney would have lost even more.

I usually eschew labels because they are often ambiguous and imprecise.  Just what is a conservative, for example?  Leaving aside the fiscal, there are two other predominant conservative flavors:  Western and Southern.  Western conservatives are live and let live.  A hard life eked out of mountains and prairies requires independent men.  Southern conservatives, on the other hand, are too often perceived (often correctly) as operating in fear that somewhere someone might be having sex.

My daughter, who attends a conservative Catholic high school in the South, and who, the night before, was in tears over the result of the race, told me that she and her friends wonder about opposition to gay marriage:  “Why is it such a big deal what other people do?”  I think that she is right.  But that is a Western conservative position of live and let live.

Republicans have lost Colorado now two elections in a row.  Usually the excuse is an influx of Hispanics who lean Democratic.  But I think that explanation falls dreadfully short.  Two states north in Montana there is nary a Spanish accent around.  It is less than 3% latin and is one of whitest states in the land.  Bush beat Kerry there by 21 percent.  Eight years later Romney’s margin had fallen to only 7 points.

It isn’t just gay marriage.  But the GOP’s fascination with the sexual values of others has made it too easy for Democrats to caricature a party so full of Akins, that Mourdocks, who attempted nuanced arguments about life’s value, were left screaming voiceless into the wind.  Vaginas and Flukes convinced not a single voter to vote Democratic, but they did make Republicans toxic to any who might be on the fence.

Live and let live, a philosphy logically consistent with fiscal conservtism, is leaving the GOP.  They certainly aren’t turning Democratic, but they are turned off by the Republican brand.  Meanwhile the “values voters” that propelled Bush to victory are dying off and not being replaced.  Western states are flipping blue, not because Democrats are winning there, but because Republicans have chosen a losing philosophy around which to unite their base.

East of Helena by 2,500 miles sits a state that flies under a similar Gadsden flag.  The “Live Free or Die” state of New Hampshire was once a reliable red island in a very blue sea.  However, not since 2000, the last year when Republicans weren’t hitched to a Southern conservative wagon, has it voted GOP.  Similar to the excuse offered about Colorado, the GOP’s decline is blamed on immigration.  But again, that falls short.  “Massholes,” as they are often derogatorily known, don’t flee the taxes of the Bay State to impose them on their new home.  Upper New England, with its hardscrabble history, is the home of the original Western Conservative.  Populated by a large number of refugees of Massachusetts’ puritanism, the area has long rejected the efforts of others to impose social mores.

This is who we once were as a country.  The most lopsided presidential election of the last hundred years was won by a Republican from Upper New England, Calvin Coolidge, who would no longer recognize his GOP home.  Silent Cal would abhor Huckabee Republicans who would tell others how to live in their bedrooms, just as he would abhor Barack Obamas and Mike Bloombergs who wish to control every other room of the house.  Most Americans, like Coolidge before them, hate both extremes of this tangential debate.

UPDATE:  Here’s an observation from the Democratic side of their own problems:

I did some work with OFA this year and my humble opinion is that the current Democratic party is on borrowed time. We’ve become TOO big of a tent when in reality white liberals essentially have nothing in common with Latinos or African-Americans. By pandering so much to specific identity groups we have driven white men away in droves and will soon start losing moderate women and Latinos as well. It’s a very awkward arrangement and instead of a party with a consensus of interests, we are the “Not the GOP” party. The GOP will figure it out with Latinos, to whom they have much to offer, and will moderate many of their stances or not speak of them at all. Pro-life is actually becoming a majority report and liberals an extreme minority. It will be interesting to see what happens to us going forward.

“We are not the Republicans” is no more successful of a slogan than the 2012 slogan of “We are not Obama.”  In fact, that was John Kerry’s 2004 platform and it failed then too.

In many ways both parties are still vestiges of our geographic precursors, only instead of disparate geographic regions, they are now inconsistent constituencies.  Reagan was supposed to have changed that by coalescing Republicans around an ideology.  That ideology was “leave us alone.”  Leave us alone so that we don’t have to pay crippling taxes.  Leave us alone from excessive government restrictions.  Leave us alone to worship our gods.  At a time when being a social conservative meant having legitimate concerns about bussing and crime, it was easier to coalesce an outcast minority to the cause.  But here’s the rub for social conservatives:  crime is no longer an issue.  Nor is bussing.  Social conservatives won. However, once they went on the offensive, opposition to gay marriage and immigration, for example, they no longer had the sympathetic argument of the victim oppressed by the world.  They were the oppressors, imposing their views on people who just wanted to be left alone.  If Republicans could look past their legacy ideas and groups, they might be able to link together a party, not by cobbling together groups disassociated from the other, but by building a cohesive party united around a logically consistent message and cause.

I encourage you to read Meghan McArdle’s article at the link and stroll through the comments.

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17 Responses to “Broken back Republicans”

  1. Instapundit » Blog Archive » HUGH HEWITT: Advice to Grieving Conservatives. Ann Coulter: Don’t Blame Romney. Investor’s … Says:

    […] More thoughts from Bob Krumm. […]

  2. John Says:

    I hear this all the time from right leaning blogs, but there is no evidence ever to support this. Rarely if ever do these supposed live and let live voters exist. If you are more social liberal, you are almost always in favor of big government. If this were not so the Democratic party would not be so in favor of big government. It is a fantasy voter bloc that will never turn out. People are not fans of small government regardless of what polls say. Get used to it. And considering Mike Huckabee was not on the ballot at all, one wonders how he can take the blame for the election results.

  3. Russ Says:

    I would tend to agree. I’m one of said white voters who stayed home. I wouldn’t have voted for Obama, but nothing I saw the Republicans offering me, with pint-sized policy differences in most areas, had enough appeal to be worth my evening, either.

    They used to call us libertarians. Then we were small-l libertarians. Then we were “mountain-state conservatives.” Whatever we are, it’s quite clear that the Republicans since 2000 don’t care enough to actually campaign for our votes. Attempt a lame guilt-trip? Sure, they’ll try that. But when’s the last time a bunch of individualists were swayed by lame attempts at guilt-tripping? If that worked, we’d already be Progressives.

  4. John Hansen Says:

    I am a conservative Christian from California. I don’t expect the Republican party to propose church doctrine = state law. Nothing is further from my position. I don’t want doctrine enforced by law. I don’t want it foisted upon free citizens by the hammer of the state. But what I want is a respected place at the table of the debate. Christian social positions are well thought out, smart, and I believe lead to a better society. Yet the establishment Republican STANDS with the liberal culture and media to cast the Christian perspective as jokes. All we want is a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

  5. Steve Gerow Says:

    A Modest Proposal:
    Rebrand the GOP as the “Prosperity Party”
    Lose the bedroom (gay rights/anti abortion/religious) rhetoric from the platform COMPLETELY. Don’t even discuss it.
    100% prosperity-economic-freedom issues.
    Evangelicals will stay with us – where else are they going to go?
    Ditto all the other declining GOP constituencies.

  6. Cincinnatus Says:

    Agree with live and let live. Gay marriage is an issue that directly effects some, presumably small, portion of the 3-4% of Americans who identify as LGBT. Most of them, again I presume, live in one of several urban communities. Allowing gay couples all the legal protections that civil union provides is easy. Extending some form of “right” to “marriage” depending on the definition potentially brands most religions as discriminatory. At that point, the live and let live scale tips and the gay marriage advocates become the intruders threatening religious liberty.

  7. Kevin Says:

    Should there be any governmental limits on what constitutes a marriage? Or should the issue be abandoned entirely to the States?

  8. Snorri Godhi Says:

    You could call me a Western conservative, though I am not American and do not live in the US. So I’d like to see a US President like that. Whether it is a winning strategy, is another question.

    First, Republicans need, or at least think they need, to win the Hispanic vote; and Hispanics, as I understand, have views opposed to Western conservatism both in the economic and “social” sphere.

    Second, Republicans cannot erase their social-conservative image simply by saying nothing (as they did this year), and if they say something, they risk losing the Southern con vote without persuading many centrist.
    A solution could be to drive home the point that “social” issue should be left to the States, and candidates for federal office should not take a position on them. Repeat ad nauseam.

    Third, and most important to me, social liberals do not just want legal abortion: they want it at taxpayers’ expense. They don’t just want open borders: they want health care, schools, and driving licenses for unregistered immigrants. I could go on, but the point is that the “social” and economic spheres cannot be neatly separated. This conflicts with my 2nd point, I know.

  9. Uncle Dan Says:

    I pretty much agree with your premise but I also agree wholeheartedly with John Hansen (#4). I’m not going to impose my values but I certainly want my values respected! Richard Mourdock’s comment was horribly twisted by the Dems; it was obvious that he meant that ALL life is precious and that the child should not be punished by the circumstance of his/her conception. Was it phrased terribly – YES. Is he a ‘kook’ – No. I do have a major beef with ‘Catholics’ though. According to the Fox News exit polls, 42% of ‘Catholics attending weekly’ voted for Obama. This is a DISGRACE! I lay most of the blame at the feet of the wishy-washy heirarchy who never preached the Catholic position from the pulpit. Sadly (for Catholics) only 29% of “Protestants attending weekly’ voted for Obama. It appears that Protestants are more Catholic than the Catholics.

  10. Tax Refugee Says:

    Bob you hit this right on the head. Like many conservatives I am a fiscal conservative but not a social conservative (I am from the West). In studying American political history I can’t recall where Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon or Reagan stood on issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage. Perhaps I’m becoming more Libertarian but I don’t care to tell people how to conduct their lives.

  11. Chris Says:

    Unfortunately, in order for a prospective GOP candidate to rise through the ranks of the party, he/she has to pander to the interests of core social conservative groups. This year’s primary season was a freak show of candidates (Bachmann, Santorum, Cain, Gingrich) attempting to outdo each other with the most outrageous statements about abortion, contraception, gay marriage, intelligent design, etc. This damages the entire party brand and is well covered by the media who can later play video clips to a national audience of the nominee making these absurd statements. This might win local elections, however, it won’t win at a national level. The GOP needs to fix this problem but I’m not sure how.

  12. Amadeus 48 Says:

    I am with Bob on this. I am a live and let live Republican from Illinois. The GOP has been chased out of the state by party factions that would rather spite each other than figure out how to beat the Dems. Pro-choice Republicans who might have a chance state-wide are repeatedly shot down in the primaries. I have never figured out why the social cons won’t vote for a pro-choice Republican when I have sucked it up repeatedly and voted for pro-life Republicans in the interest of promoting limited government in general. The GOP needs to be a big tent. These social issues are personal matters of belief and faith that should not be part of party orthodoxy. Who cares if two gay people in a committed relationship want to get the legal protections afforded to marriage partners (succession to spousal property at death without estate tax, Family Leave Act rights, etc.)? The GOP should be the live and let live party.

  13. MatthewM Says:

    I would be more inclined to listen to those who say “live and let live” if those people would let their own children live. Instead of murdering them.

  14. RightKlik Says:

    “Lose the bedroom (gay rights/anti abortion/religious) rhetoric from the platform COMPLETELY. Don’t even discuss it.”

    That won’t work. The Democrats will create controversy where none exists. E.g. the myth of the GOP wanting to ban birth control.

  15. RightKlik Says:

    “live and let live”

    There will be no “live and let live” with or without gay marriage. Gays already have the right to do as they wish in the bedroom. But they don’t have the right to do as they please with the business they run out of their garage.

    I think social conservatives know that there will be no “live and let live” when it comes to their children. Their personal views and values will be trashed in public schools and their taxes will be used to fund what they view as morally repugnant.

    The left won’t be stop with “live and let live” on social issues. But if conservatives object to the heavy hand of left-wing statism on social issues, it will be the conservatives who are portrayed as “obsessed” with the bedroom.

  16. Lorenz Gude Says:

    Bob – re New Hampshire. Look at the county by county maps from previous elections – it is the South East, where all those refugees from Taxachusetts live that votes Republican and the rest of the state that votes Democratic. The 2012 county maps will be interesting in this regard. I expect to see more blue. I grew up there in Rock Ribbed Republican western NH in the 50s. My parents were NY FDR liberals but I learned the phrase ‘live and let live’ at my father’s knee. There used to be a libertarian streak in American liberalism which seems to have been replaced by statism – to which I am unalterably opposed. There is some connection between contemporary ‘progressive’ statism and Puritan statism. One of the schools attended by Obama in Hawaii was founded by New England puritans as was Harvard for the production of preachers. I don’t know how many people moved to NH to get away from the intrusive Massholes but Roger Williams certainly founded Rhode Island on the live and let live principle.

  17. Snorri Godhi Says:

    WRT the update, you might want to re-read The Road to Serfdom and ponder how chapters 5 and 8 are relevant to the current situation.

    Ed: Great idea. You’ve inspired me to do a post on “the reading list.”